Films, TV, and Theatre


Gypsy (1993)

Screen version of the classic Broadway musical, starring Bette Midler as a domineering stage mother determined to make stars of her daughters. With Peter Riegert.

Stars: Bette Midler, Peter Riegert, Cynthia Gibb, Jennifer Beck, Ed Asner, Linda Hart
Director: Emile Ardolino

John J. O'Connor, Publication Unknown

Everything's coming up roses? As far as Bette Midler is concerned, absolutely. An extensive concert tour, "Experience the Divine", has reaped rave reviews and lively ticket sales. She won an Emmy Award for singing to Johnny Carson on his next-to-last "Tonight Show" appearance. And now looks like a shoo-in for another Emmy for her performance as mama Rose in CABS splendid recreation of the 1959 Broadway musical, "Gypsy". The special three-hour broadcast, Sunday at 8 p.m., perfectly defines the concept of event television.

The first Mama Rose was Ethel Merman, using her last appearance in a Broadway show to crown a legendary career with her most memorable performance. In the process, she bequeathed a fearsome hurdle to all subsequent productions. A movie version of "Gypsy", starring Rosalind Russell, never stood a chance. Some stage productions, most notably those starring Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly, held their own admirably. But the special Merman imprint lingered as a kind of theatrical Everest that would never be scaled in quite the same way again. Until now. Miss Midler appears to have been made for this role of primal stage mother. Rose is a monster, pure and simple, trying to realize her own frustrated ambitions through the incessant pushing and manipulating of her daughters, June and Lousie. In pursuit of her dream, a rather puny fantasy of vaudeville stardom, Rose is shameless, lying, scheming, swiping the silverware from restaurants, sneaking Chinese food into cheap hotel rooms. Ordinary life may be peachy for some people, some humdrum people, but not Rose, she warns in one song.

The woman is anything but lovable. But it is the genius of Arthur Laurent's book, Julie Styne's music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics that her sheer energy and determination can leave audiences in a state approaching awe. From the moment she storms into a Seattle audition for child performers shouting, "Sing out, Louise's, sing out!", Miss Midler's Rose exudes enough brass to satisfy the most demanding of Merman's fans. This Rose can toss off wisecracks with finesse and belt a lyric into the rafters.

She also reveals a more complex side of herself in the show's quieter moments, more of the sad woman who has been rejected by three husbands and even by her own parents. By the time she gets to "Rose's Turn", the show's powerfully bitter finale, Miss Midler has made Rose her very own. the audience can't help but agree with Louise, now a star as Gypsy Rose Lee, when she tells Mama, "You really would've been something."

Clearly directed with love by the late Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing", "George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker'"), the lavish production is painstaking, from Bonnie Walker's re-creations of Jerome Ronbbin's original choreography to Bob Mackie's snazzy costumes. the supporting cast is strong, from major roles (Peter Riegert as Herbie the manager, Cynthia Gibb as Louise, Jennifer Back as Dainty June, and Christine Ebersole as the stripper Tessie Tura) to choice cameos (Edward Asner as Rose's father, Michael Jeter as Mr. Goldstone, Andrea martin as a show business secretary.

In the end, Rose just wants to be noticed, Miss Midler makes sure of that in the performance of her career. So far.

Thanks Bev and Terri!!!!

Jonathan Taylor, Variety

Remounting "Gypsy" for TV is no easy task. It requires guts to put on a musical in the face of general public apathy toward the form. It also takes faithfulness to the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim classic score, staging that won't get lost in TV's 19-inch landscape and, most important, an actress in the role of Mama Rose with the charisma and skill to make viewers forget Ethel Merman, who originated and defined the part. This new production, headed by Bette Midler in the role she was born to play, succeeds on those counts and sets itself up as a potential holiday perennial.

Midler's Rose is explosive, riveting and impossible, yet impossible not to love. Younger and feistier than Merman's Rose, with much of the insanity that marked Tyne Daly's 1989 stage revival, Midler presents a stage mother who loves and tortures her two daughters with equal vigor. In the early going, she relies a bit too heavily on her live-show shtick, emphasizing Rose's humor over her menacing intensity. She's funny and spirited as she woos skeptical Herbie (Peter Riegert) and as she relentlessly pushes her daughters (Cynthia Gibb and Jennifer Beck as the adult Louise and June, respectively) through their none-too-thrilling act.

Still, you can't help falling for Rose as she stands in the wings miming Baby June (Lacey Chabert) and Baby Louise's (Elisabeth Moss) act. Midler makes you feel the agony of this frustrated performer, forced to hector her girls into being her surrogate.

But Midler really hits her stride when June abandons the act, forcing Rose to turn to the resilient but reluctant -- and not particularly talented -- Louise. Bouncing back from this latest of many abandonments, Rose sings the show-stopping "Everything's Coming Up Roses," leaving the audience -- to say nothing of Louise and Herbie -- breathless at her spirit and terrified by her increasingly obvious mental instability.

Standing out next to this bravura performance is no simple task, but this ensemble is largely successful. Riegert holds his own against Midler as the mostly meek Herbie, even showing off decent vocal chops on a couple of numbers. Christine Ebersole, Linda Hart and Anna McNeely are delicious as the strippers who inform Louise that "You've Gotta Have a Gimmick."

And Gibb gives a star-making performance as Louise. Although overshadowed by Rose, Louise is in some ways a harder part to play; she needs to seem an inept wallflower who blossoms into a confident, beautiful Rose Louise -- later dubbed Gypsy Rose Lee as she embarks on her stripping career. Gibb pulls this off skillfully, conveying the character's inner goodness, strength andpain.

The only problem, ironically, is that Gibb is too pretty -- even as Louise, wearing the front half of a cow costume -- which takes away some of the impact from her metamorphosis into Gypsy.

Accomplished actors such as Edward Asner, Andrea Martin, Michael Jeter and Tony Shalhoub show up with what are basically cameos: They must have been thrilled to be associated with this classy production. Rocker-turned-actress Rachel Sweet, meanwhile, makes the most of her small role as the weepy, squeaky-voiced Agnes.

This fifth major production of the backstage musical about the early life of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee (Rosalind Russell starred in the 1962 film version and Angela Lansbury headed the 1971 stage revival) also works by staying faithful to the can't-miss material -- including Arthur Laurents' witty book and original director Jerome Robbins' choreography. There's no attempt to modernize the presentation, no forced effort to bend the material to bring in the MTV audience, no needless attempt to open up the stage show beyond the confines of the theater stage.

Instead, the late Emile Ardolino employs an effective yet inconspicuous directing style that simply lets the TV audience watch the show from the best seats in the house. You watch from a comfortable distance the cheesy act by Dainty June and her Farm Boys, a convincing argument for the death of vaudeville. And you see the agony and desire in Louise's face up close as Farm Boy Tulsa sings and dances "All I Need Is the Girl," one of the show's highlights.

Jackson De Govia's production design and Ralf Bode's cinematography present the story in the quasi-reality of soundstage-set productions.

The not-quite-real feel is perfectly suited to this hard to imagine yet fact-based story of that most resilient of impossible dreams: showbiz success. An even bigger dream -- and bigger joy -- is the resurrection of the legendary Broadway show in the unlikely venue of network television. To paraphrase Rose, it leaves you feeling swell, feeling great.

Miles BellerBrash

This TV redrafting of the classic musical of the American stage bumps and grinds its way to entertainment ecstasy under the buoyant direction of the late Emile Ardolino.

OK, clocking in at three hours, this video version does play too long, losing the momentum established early on. Yet this production endeavors to remain true to a sense of Broadway, all the while "opening up'' things so the story of a shy young woman and her assertive stage mom unfolds in a tinted, technicolorish world that also pays homage to the romantic nostalgia of the silver screen.

Indeed, "Gypsy'' rates as "blue-chip'' television, the sort of broadcast burnished with the luster of "quality'' and "merit,'' designed to stand out from the field of usual primetime telefeatures.

Cast as Mama Rose, the woman behind the girl, is Bette Midler, portraying an iron-willed soul who knows from the get-go that stardom is her daughter's destiny, the fates be damned. Midler marshals a fierce determination, giving us a matriarch with moxie who is ruthless when it comes to pushing her kid into the limelight.

Though she is surely commanding, one wishes the actress had toned down the act at points, providing us with some subtleties of character, e.g. introspective tenderness, rather than the constant output of sturm und drang emotions.

In addition to telling everyone in sight what to do, Rose's willful nature asserts itself when her pa (Edward Asner) poo-poos Rose's aspirations for a show biz career for daughters Louise (Cynthia Gibb) and June (Jennifer Beck). Rose then gathers the girls and hits the road, eventually connecting with a candy salesman and former agent named Herbie (Peter Riegert), who winds up representing Rose's offspring.

Matters reach a crisis when June, the daughter Rose really had targeted for stardom, elopes with a dancer in the troupe. However, Mama realizes there's still Louise, whom she now will make into the star performer, the one who became Gypsy Rose Lee.

Louise's "big break'' occurs when she suddently takes the place of a burlesque stripper who has been arrested. Yet as her daugther's fame increases -- now a celebrated clothes-taker-offer monikered Gypsy Rose Lee -- Rose finds herself ever more isolated and alone. For she recognizes that the notoriety she wanted for her daughters is really something she desperately needed herself. Yet at film's end, mother and daughter reach an understanding about what had to be.

A renewed yet respectful version of an American classic that despite its overlong playtime lustily dances on its own, CBS's "Gypsy'' delivers the goods. Supporting cast members Riegert and Gibb serve the production well, the former a much-needed, artfully understated presence, the latter adding subtextural ballast to the overall undertaking.

And despite her all too outsized rendering, bet on Bette for Emmy honors as the mom with stick-to-it grit and vibrant voice who lived through her kids. Indeed, one suspects this TV film will claim many an honor, given Ardolino's exuberant direction and his unbridled exhilaration toward this musical enterprise.

Sky Movies

A musical in this day and age? Whatever next? Extremely colourful, and with warmth and affection in many of its performances, this is nevertheless a slightly strained version of the old chestnut, and difficult to relax with. Bette Midler might have been born to play the part of the stage mother who, frustrated in her desires for stardom, pushes her two untalented daughters into vaudeville. Midler really gets her teeth into the role of Mama Rose and, if her singing is sometimes not at its best, she enjoys some inspired moments on the acting front. Peter Riegert is quietly excellent (although he can't sing) as the agent who loves her, and Cynthia Gibb entirely competent as Louise in a role that gives its actress little chance to shine. The songs are melodic and one includes the classic line: 'Soon this bum'll be Beau Brummell'. Rhymes like that are worth waiting to hear.